Reaping the bounty of creation care

Tim Brown, one of the plot holders, holds this season’s harvest from the TWU community garden.

The foundation of an old homestead is surrounded by old fruit trees that stand in knee-high grass. They are about the only visible reminder of a farm that used to exist on the 57 acres across the road from Trinity Western University. To the untrained eye there doesn’t seem to be much going on, but for TWU’s Environmental Club this land is a goldmine for a new project – TWU’s first community garden.

Protected from commercial development as part of the agricultural land reserve, the property serves as a rich place of learning and discovery for TWU students.

The TWU Environmental Club and students from Environmental Studies, recognized the resource that they had in the land and began brainstorming about the potential of starting a community garden. TWU Assistant Professor of Biology Karen Steensma and advisor on the project says that it has been a recent trend in universities and urban settings across North America to maintain a community garden.

The environmental, economical and health benefits of belonging to a community garden drive its popularity. Gardeners collectively work on a plot of land, growing and harvesting fresh produce and plants. Not only do community gardens provide inexpensive, local fruits and vegetables, but they also build a sense of community and a connection with the environment that is often difficult to foster in urban settings. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has strongly encouraged the development of community gardens, and the city now boasts a total of over 2700 community garden plots, many of which have a waitlist for joining.

In the spring of 2009, during Earth Week, a section of land on Trinity Western’s property was broken, tilled and divided into seven plots. Volunteers from TWU and from the community committed to maintaining the gardening plots for the summer. Tim Brown, a Trinity Western alum who currently works at TWU as a Resident Director was one of the gardeners. He shares that while he has always been interested in gardening, he never had the opportunity living in the suburbs. The opportunity to live closer to the land, receiving the health benefits of eating freshly grown, organic produce was exciting to the 28-year-old.

Because the land had been overgrown beginning a community garden from scratch presented numerous logistic challenges.BrownCommunityGarden-Tim1 relates one of the summer’s greatest gardening challenges, providing irrigation for the crops during a particularly dry season. Using a cistern which remained on the land from the homestead, Brown and his fellow gardeners pooled their money together to implant a hand-pump, making water access much easier. He and the other plot holders also erected a fence around the crops to protect the plants from deer. “I found a joy in both the planting and the problem solving but I realized what a responsibility gardening is. The crops need to be constantly harvested or weeded; you can’t cram for a harvest like you would cram for a test. It is a day by day process,” says Brown.

Despite its modest beginning, the garden flourished. Steensma was pleasantly shocked when she saw the crops. “They have phenomenal produce, and the food tastes unbelievable! With no external funding, they did a remarkable job with what they had.”

More importantly, Steensma recognizes the potential of the TWU community garden to expand into a project that would involve caring for the environment and educating the community about agriculture. Karen and the other professors involved with the project aim to expand the garden and start a demonstration garden which would show people how to grow and take care of the land. The harvest from the demonstration garden could be then donated to local food banks. The garden would be a further connection between Trinity Western and the community, and an example of creation care.

Steensma stresses that she envisions the garden as a stewardship possibility. It would combine agricultural research with resource preservation. “We aim to care for the land and for the environment and yet produce efficiently,” she says. “Christian universities should manage land in a way that gives an example to the community at large.”

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is a provincially chartered, independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university, enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 42 undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 16 graduate degree programs include nursing, counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.

Last Updated: 2009-10-01
Author: Elisabeth Fallon